A Swift Cure For Inept Politicians

There is nearly universal agreement that our Congress is currently unable to function as the founders had intended — witness the recent Senate vote on background checks for gun purchases, which flies in the face of 91% of the people in this country those officials supposedly represent. Given that there is no clause in the constitution that allows for the disbanding of the group, sad to say, I sought a solution elsewhere. I found it in Jonathan Swift’s remarkable book Gulliver’s Travels. In the third of Lemuel Gulliver’s trips, he visits the city of Lagado on the island of Balnibarbi. While there he visits an academy, as I have mentioned in a previous blog. During that visit he encounters an “ingenious doctor who seemed to be perfectly versed in the whole nature and system of government.” That eminent doctor cured incompetent legislators in the following manner, which we would do well to imitate:

It is allowed that senates and great councils are often troubled with redundant, ebullient, and other peccant humors, and with many diseases of the head, and more of the heart; with strong convulsions, with grievous contractions of the nerves and sinews in both hands, but especially the right; with spleen, flatus, vertigos, and deliriums; with scrofulous tumors full of fetid purulent matter; with sour frothy eructations, with canine appetites and crudeness of digestion, and besides many others too numerous to mention. This doctor therefore proposed that upon the meeting of a senate, certain physicians should attend at the three first days of their sitting, and at the close of each day’s deliberations feel the pulses of every senator; after which, having maturely considered and consulted upon the nature of the several maladies, and the methods of cure, they should on the fourth day return to the senate house, attended by their apothecaries stored with the proper medicines; and before the members sit, administer to each of them lenitives, aperitives, abstersives, corrosives, restringents, palliatives, laxatives, cephalagics, icterics, apophlegmatics, acoustics, as their several cases required; and according as these medicines should operate, repeat, alter, or omit them at the end of the meeting.

This project could not be of any great expense to the public and would in my poor opinion, be of much use in the dispatch of business in those countries where senates have any share in the legislative power; beget unanimity, shorten debates, open a few mouths which are now closed, and close many more which are now open; curb the petulancy of the young, and correct the positiveness of the old; rouse the stupid, and damp the excitable. . . . .

He likewise directed that every senator in the great council of a nation, after he had delivered his opinion and argued in the defense of it, should be obliged to give his vote directly contrary; because if that were done the result would infallibly terminate in the good of the public.

Given the immense popularity of Gulliver’s Travels, which had been in print for 50 years when the founders of this country declared independence from England, I suppose we can account for the fact that the above advice does not appear in the constitution or any supporting documents because it was supposed everyone had read the book.

A New Hero!

I apologize to readers for continuing to circle back to the question of the types of people we revere as heroes. But I have always thought, since I first read Homer’s Iliad, that the heroes a culture admires tell us a great deal about that culture and the values it holds dear. My most recent blogs were about the sad examples of Michael Jordan who seems to be totally self-involved, and the group that picketed after the death of the renegade cop, who seem to be simply misguided. In both cases, it seemed to me, we had examples of types of persons who are hardly admirable, much less heroic.

220px-Elizabeth_Warren_CFPB1

But I have found a person who is worthy of the title of “hero.” It is Elizabeth Warren, a first-term Senator from Massachusetts who is not only sharp but also a woman of principle who seems willing to take on the powers that be. She is like a breath of fresh air in Washington – the city of stale air and an excess of money and lazy self-interest. A recent story that has gone “viral” on You-Tube shows Senator Warren taking on bank regulators over the issue of penalties for ripping off the public. You remember: the banks are the types this government bailed out recently with a slap on the wrist. They apparently paid their fines with some of the $700 billion they received from the government to help bail them out of the difficulties they got themselves into. Iceland, in contrast, simply let their failed banks go under and the government bailed out the investors. And their economy at present is in fine shape, thank you very much.

In any event, a recent story and film clip on the internet show Senator Warren making fools of the bank examiners as  the following exchange makes clear:

“We do not have to bring people to trial,” Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, assured Warren, declaring that his agency had secured a large number of “consent orders,” or settlements.

“I appreciate that you say you don’t have to bring them to trial. My question is, when did you bring them to trial?” she responded.

“We have not had to do it as a practical matter to achieve our supervisory goals,” Curry offered.

Warren turned to Elisse Walter, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who said that the agency weighs how much it can extract from a bank without taking it to court against the cost of going to trial.

“I appreciate that. That’s what everybody does,” said Warren, a former Harvard law professor. “Can you identify the last time when you took the Wall Street banks to trial?”

“I will have to get back to you with specific information,” Walter said as the audience tittered. . . .

[Warren concluded the exchange by noting that,] “There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial,'”

If you haven’t seen the video, you owe it to yourself to check it out (here). Warren is relentless. All she needs is a white charger or a cape and her image would be complete. The bank examiners look very uncomfortable and, try as they will, they are unable to prevaricate, a dodge they are very skilled at.  It will be very interesting to see if Senator Warren is able to have a major impact in a city that seems to swallow up principled politicians. In the meantime, I simply say: Go Elizabeth!!